Installment #3 of Vicky’s story of Being Taken in Turkey:
Frequently people in the village would make comments about Mehmet and our Turkish was not enough to understand “serefsiz” “saytan” but my German was enough to understand “aufpassen, aufpassen, aufpassen” (look out). I did think at the time this was an allusion to the fact he was a ladies man, or his smoking funny cigarettes but the situation was getting more and more worrying. What we had not counted in our calculations was the fact that our house being perched on the mountain (with wonderful views over the lovely valley) meant everything had to be delivered by tractor. The tons of sand, the cement, the travertine, the tiling – everything was delivered down in the village and we had to pay for it to be tranferred to a small tractor and brought up to the house.
Also the fact that we had no written documents was more than niggling me now. We knew that the village had not yet been surveyed by the Kadastro and so nobody had Tapus only senets (village deeds). We knew that as foreigners we couldn’t have village deeds which were of little legal value but Mehmet had promised us that the Tapus were coming soon and he would transfer them to our names.
As the scales started falling from our eyes we began to get more and more wary and he would sulk more and more until one day he stomped off with a “I don’t help you no more and I don’t give senets”. We were on our own and the money had flooded away, we were down to danger limit on the financials, limited Turkish language skills and in a country where we had not yet worked out all the rules. I hadn’t a clue whether the price per day for a tractor was correct – I’ve never hired a tractor before!
We talked to our real friend Yasar about our problems and he said that he was very unhappy about this and that without Turkish help we would never get the proper deals espcially with the tractors. People in the village are very poor and are working in the fields all day to just make ends meet. The muktar told us that he was looking forward to his retirement payments and that the first thing he would buy was a shower, he would no longer have to heat up water in a jug on the soba. So with tourism having hit Cappadocia suddenly with “rich” tourists flashing wads of money around, there are obviously people who let themselves be tempted by overcharging a little since the foreigners won’t notice the difference. Yasar was unhappy to explain this to us but he said unfortunately this is a reality. Some people have integrity, some people are too dirt poor and can’t resist. What made him really angry was that Mehmet was/is not poor and owned his own hotel and rent-a-car business plus another house in Urgup and that he had been ripping off tourists and Turks alike for years. As we got to know people better and our Turkish improved we spoke to many Turkish people who would shame-facedly admit they had been taken in by the baby-faced smile and the soft talk. Some had only lost small sums of money, others like us had lost life savings and nobody had enough money to hire a lawyer to take him to court.
His cousin Emin offered to act as overseer for us and find us honest and competant electricians, plumbers etc. We gladly accepted. He came up to the house and was appalled at the shoddy workmanship from our workers who seemed to spend more time drinking tea than working. “And you got paid xxx Eruros for this?” he asked Ali Usta. Ali Usta stammered that he had only been paid half that. Rubbish, we said. We had given that money to Mehmet to be given to Ali. Rubbish, retorts Ali, that b***rd has been cheating on me! So off went Emin and Ali with our receipts to confront Mehmet. Mehmet takes this with a cynical smile and tells them it is normal to take commission, this is “ticaret” (business). Emin and Ali are horrified and indignant as he calmly tells them he has been taking 50 to 60% commission on everything. Ali and the workers down their tools, load up in the van and that is the last we see of them.
Emin then tells us we must speed up operations as we are now September and that after November the winter will set in, the snow will come and workers won’t come up to our mountain 15 kms from town. How much money do we have left, he asks. Only 15 000 euros, we admit. Emin starts scribbling calculations while ripping out his hair. This doesn’t look good. But he worked miracles. He called his electrician who is a good Muslim and appalled at his countryman’s treatment. He didn’t exactly work for free but I reckon what we paid him just covered the cost of fuel for his van. Same for the plumber who was originally from our village. Same for the guys who laid the travertine and did the bathroom tiling. Everyone was upset about the situation – ” please don’t think that all Turkish people are like that”. We kept insisting that we didn’t (and we don’t). Ahmet Greeneyes from the village came with his tractor for free. Fatma Teyze would come and sit on the wall and encourage the workers to work harder and faster. Ibrahim Amca would come and from our terrace look over to Mehmet’s hotel and shake his fist and talk about the devil that Mehmet was. In fact he seemed to be holing up. We’d seen him going to the village coffee-shop a couple of weeks earlier and people spitting on the ground with muttered comments as he passed. This put balm on open wounds even though it pained me so much hearing Mr P say “I thought he was my friend. How could he do this to me?” However another friend with relations in Kayseri helps us buy 5 beds at a discount price with bedlinen and pillows thrown in free. The solar panels are up, the pump is ordered, the plumbing and electricity is in. The beautiful golden and black travertine flooring is laid, the electricity and plumbing finished. We just need to get the showers, toilets and sinks fixed and buy stuff for the kitchen and we can open our place to guests in a couple of weeks, 5 rooms this year, 5 the year after. We are down to the bottom of our bank account but there is no going back since we have nothing to go back to. Emin is a tour guide and promises to bring us customers and village life is cheap if you live like villagers on beans and rice. We are raring to go and so grateful to all the kind, honest and patient people who have been helping us out of the mess we got ourselves into. Nobody said to us : how could you have been so stupid. In the village life is hard and money scarce but we would constantly be stopped as we drove out of the village as our neighbours would give us a bowl of pekmez, of a couple of apples or grapes or whatever. We knew that we loved this country and were here to stay.
(to be continued)